Taxpayers foot bill to defend accused criminals like those in Krystal killings

MORGAN COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - The three people charged with murdering two Krystal employees during a robbery last month are scheduled to appeared in the Morgan County Courthouse Wednesday.

Prosecutors are expected to lay out their evidence against Jordaan Creque, Ezekiel Gholston and Cassandra Eldred.

All three are charged with capital murder in the deaths of Jeff Graff and Jessie Aguilar.

Investigators claim Creque shot the two employees after robbing the store. According to police, Gholston was inside the restaurant with Creque while Eldred waited in the car.

Creque, Gholston and Eldred were represented by court-appointed attorneys at the hearing.

Their cases contribute to a multi-million dollar expense to defend indigent accused criminals every year in Alabama.

The Fair Trial Tax Fund partially pays for the attorneys. That fund is paid for by fines for crimes that criminals are ordered to pay by the courts. In 2010, that fund brought in more than $22 million.

The state spent nearly $63 million to give suspects representation in court last year. Money from the state's general fund budget covered the costs not collected through the Fair Trial Tax Fund. In short, taxpayers funded roughly $40 million for indigent defense in 2010.

As part of a plan to balance the budget, Governor Robert Bentley spearheaded a plan to change the way indigent defense operates. A state law passed last year that transformed how the system will work going forward. Among other measures, it places a cap on the hourly rate for defense attorneys. They can now charge a maximum of $70 per hour. They can no longer charge for operating costs, like the cost of maintaining an office.

State officials tell WAFF 48 News that counties across the state have until October 1st to decide how they will implement possible money saving changes for indigent defense.

Counties currently using an appointed attorney system could switch to contract attorneys or create a county public defender office with salaried attorneys. State officials said about half of Alabama's counties have notified the state of the course they plan to take.

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